by Chuck Hoven
(Plain Press, April 2018) Ward 14 Council Member Jasmin Santana said, “I am overwhelmed by your support” as she greeted the one hundred and fifty residents attending her first Town Hall meeting, on March 22nd, at Lincoln West High School. Santana said this is “one of many town halls” she will hold to help let residents know about important resources available. “Community events are my passion – welcoming people and putting signs up is what I do best,” said Santana.
Santana urged residents of Ward 14 to become familiar with the precinct where they live, and their precinct committee representative. She said the precinct committee members will serve as a bridge from the neighborhoods to City Hall.
Santana said in her first twelve weeks in Cleveland City Council, most calls coming to her office have been either about safety or housing. To that end, Santana said the panel, assembled for this Town Hall, would focus on issues and concerns about housing in Ward 14. She asked that questions from residents focus on housing issues and promised a future Town Hall to address safety.
In response to a question, Council Member Santana said one thing that keeps her up at night is figuring out ways to foster collaboration among organizations. “What is the solution to bring partners together, so we can have a healthier and safer community?” she said.
Santana said in addition to the housing panel, Special Guest, Metro Health Chief of Staff Jane Platten, would talk about MetroHealth’s Transformation Plan and the revitalization of the W. 25tharea surrounding the hospital.
MetroHealth Chief of Staff Platten said the MetroHealth Transformation Plan called not for just building a new hospital, but for “doing the right thing for patients and the right thing for the neighborhood.”
Platten said MetroHealth Chief Executive Officer Dr. Akram Boutros introduced a timeline for the Transformation Plan in 2014. In 2016, the new Critical Care facility was completed. She said the design for the new hospital will be announced soon and a new facility is expected to be built to replace the MetroHealth towers by 2022.
Platten said plans call for a ten-story tall, 270 room building to be built on the Southern end of the current MetroHealth Campus on what is now a parking area. In addition, a new outpatient building will be constructed. In the area where the outpatient buildings are currently located, plans call for the block to be converted to a 25-acre park which Platten said will be connected to the towpath trail and will be an urban park with programming attached. Platten said the redesign of the MetroHealth Campus and the new park will make MetroHealth the world’s first Eco-Hospital.
Platten said that established relationships with community leaders and organizations will be used to engage the community with project plans so the community can have input into the planning process.
MetroHealth supports 5,618 jobs, has a $873 million annual economic benefit to the community and generates $95 million annually in local and state tax revenue, said Platten. In the next seven years, Platten said most of the new jobs will be in construction. She said education and apprenticeship training will be available to area residents interested in working to build the hospital.
Adrian Maldonado of Turner Construction, Platten noted, has committed to work with the Spanish American Committee to recruit neighborhood apprentices for some of the trade unions. Scholarships will be made available to support residents attending a 12-week pre-apprenticeship program at Cuyahoga Community College as an entrance way for residents to get into union apprenticeships in the construction trades.
Plans are also underway to create an Architectural, Construction and Engineering Program at Lincoln West beginning in the 2018-19 school year, said Platten. MetroHealth’s current program with Lincoln West, the School of Science and Health, provides students with a curriculum based in the health care industry, Platten noted.
The Lincoln Building, directly across from the entrance of the hospital will serve as home to the MetroHealth Police as well as the Life Flight Ground Crew, said Platten.
Platten stressed that the transformation plan for the hospital will be sensitive to the hospital’s neighbors. She said, “We are not about the business of uprooting people in the neighborhood.” She said the hospital hoped to bring new people into the neighborhood, but will not be buying occupied homes.
She said MetroHealth also has a commitment to support low-income housing in the neighborhood citing the hospitals recent support of low-income housing at the 36-unit rehabilitation of the Lion Mills Building. She said MetroHealth hopes to provide incentives to encourage 500 of its employees to move into the neighborhood. A fund has been started to provide down payment assistance and funds for rehabilitation of existing houses.
Members of the Housing Panel introduced at the Town Hall Meeting each spoke about the resources their organizations can provide.
Panelists included: Karen Lopez of the City of Cleveland Building and Housing Department; Cory Riordan, Executive Director of the Tremont West Development Corporation(TWDC); Keisha González, Managing Director of Metro West Community Development Center (MWCDC); Mahria Harris, Director of Home Ownership Services at Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Greater Cleveland; Christine Keegan, NHS Land Trust Program Manager; Kate Monter Durban, Assistant Director of the Cleveland Housing Network – Housing Partners; Heather Veljkovic, Housing Court Magistrate; and Peter Hotchkiss, Housing Court Specialist.
TWDC Executive Director Cory Riordan said he recently returned from Washington DC from a meeting of the National Low Income Housing Coalition where members were lobbying Congress for Low Income Housing Tax Credits and continued funding of the Community Development Block Grant. Riordan said TWDC, a 500-member community organization, offers several services in the Tremont neighborhood including community organizing, a housing program with the Cleveland Housing Network – CHN Housing Partners; code enforcement; referrals for housing assistance; safety and marketing of the neighborhood.
Riordan talked about the importance of low income housing, and expressed concern about the impact of rising rents on long time renters. He urged leveraging assets such as the Land Bank and Low Income Housing Tax Credits to create investment in low income housing. “I didn’t get into this work to just see work go to the highest bidder,” he said.
Metro West Managing Director Keisha González said her organization has been leveraging city of Cleveland demolition funds to demolish vacant houses in the neighborhood. She says the housing vacancy rate in the Metro West service area has been reduced from 17% to 9% of the housing units in the neighborhood. She introduced Metro West staff members working in its housing, code enforcement and safety programs.
González says Metro West would like to continue to create multi-unit housing in the neighborhood such as the Lion Mills rehabilitation. She says the organization does not do their own development of single family houses, but does provide resources to do it yourselfers willing to rehab a house in the neighborhood.
In response to a question from the audience, González said Metro West is exploring ways to help local contractors get housing, and build capacity in their businesses to obtain financing to work on one and two family houses in the neighborhood.
González said it is the responsibility of the Community Development Corporations to continually reevaluate their one and two family housing programs to make sure housing offered is affordable. She said affordable housing is “the core of our work.”
Both González and Riordan said their code enforcement programs were not designed to push people out of their houses, but to correct issues at hand to improve housing in the neighborhood. They said they help connect residents to resources to clear up violations. Both said landlords that are bulk property owners are the biggest offenders and they are willing to work with responsible property owners.
Karen Lopez, representing the City of Cleveland Building and Housing Department, said while the neighborhood organizations do not have the power to issue fines for code violations, the city’s Building and Housing Department does. She said Building and Housing Inspectors follow up on neighborhood complaints of housing code violations. She said $75 tickets are issued for code violations and if the violations are not cleared up, home owners can end up in Housing Court.
Mahria Harris, Director of Homeownership Services at Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS) of Greater Cleveland, talked about down payment assistance available through NHS and classes the organization offers in its homebuyer education program.
Christina Keegan, NHS Land Trust Program Manager, talked about the use of a Land Trust as a means of creating long term affordable housing. She mentioned other resources NHS offers including Housing Needs Outreach Program and the Home Repair Program. She said the Home Repair Program offers loans of up to $60,000 and is especially focused on addressing health and safety aspects of housing.
Keegan talked about the lack of quality affordable rental units in the neighborhood and said it is a major crisis. She noted a family displaced from the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood recently moved to the Stockyard neighborhood and were only able to find a $700 a month apartment with no hot water.
Keegan urged collaboration among leaders of nonprofit organizations to find solutions to the crisis of affordable housing in Cleveland.
Kate Monitor Durban, Assistant Director of the CHN Housing Partners, noted the organization’s Housing Stability Program which helps residents with HEAP and PIP signups and can help replace a refrigerator through an energy saver program. Monitor Durban says the organization assists residents in gaining home ownership through its lease/purchase program.
Housing Court Magistrate Heather Veljkovic talked about eviction law. She noted that for those that can’t afford a lawyer, Housing Court Specialists are available as a free service to both tenants and landlords.
Housing Court Specialist Peter Hotchkiss noted that Legal Aid was taking over some of the tenant assistance functions that Cleveland Tenants Organization performed before it recently closed. Hotchkiss says he is one of ten Housing Specialist available to help in Cleveland Housing Court. He urged those in need of assistance to call 664-4295.